Dry conditions, drought make air pollution greater than normal
SUMMIT COUNTY – Adding insult to injury, the county must deal not only with a depleted lake, but increased air pollution brought about by wind whipping up exposed dirt along the reservoir’s shoreline.
Combine that with pollen, smoke from fires elsewhere in the state, and dry conditions, and you’ve got the makings of an irritating summer.
“There’s really nothing that can be done about the exposed soils on the lakeshore,” said Jim Rada, director of Summit County’s environmental health department, “nothing that can be done about pollen, nothing that can be done about the dryness of the climate right now.
“As dry as it is, there’s definitely a likelihood of having more particulate matter in the air, whether it’s from the lake shore, construction sites, dirt roads or driveways. It’s just going to happen.”
The lack of rain, Rada said, means pollen won’t wash out of the air as it often does.
Even people who don’t suffer from allergies or asthma are likely to notice this unusual mix of conditions, experts say.
“To most healthy people, it will be an irritant,” said Mike Silverstein, a planner with the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division. “Under high wind conditions, sensitive populations need to take precautions, but even healthy people should minimize their exposure.”
Silverstein defines “sensitive populations” as those suffering from respiratory or heart conditions.
And no one knows the problems of those with respiratory problems better than Dr. Bill Silvers, who operates a satellite allergy and asthma clinic in Summit County. This year’s conditions, he said, are worse than usual.
“It will affect people who don’t have allergies, and it will make those who do have allergies even worse,” he said. “The good news is that there are excellent medicines out there. There’s no need to suffer.”
While flying dust can make for difficult driving conditions and unpleasant outdoor activities, the big concern about it, everyone agreed, is its impact on health. Particulates small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung – typically those less than 10 microns in diameter and known as PM10 – are typically so small they can’t be seen, but their long-term health impacts are great.
“Even healthy people should minimize their exposure,” Silverstein said. “Most dust is bigger than PM10. The stuff you can see easily is bigger than PM10. That’s PM100 or 70, but it’s an irritant to your eyes, nose and throat.”
The state’s air pollution control division measures PM10 at two stations in Summit County, one in Silverthorne and a second in Breckenridge. Historically, those measurements have shown the air to be “very clean,” Silverstein said. Because of the lag time required to take the measurements and analyze them, the state doesn’t have recent findings.
County officials say there isn’t much they can do about the lake dust.
“We use a lot of mag chloride during the summer to pretty much mitigate that dust issue (on roads),” said Jack Benson, director of the county’s road and bridge department. “But the dust we’re seeing is coming off the bank line of the reservoir, and we have no authority over that.”
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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